What happens to slow learners? A descriptive study of educational practices

Date of Completion

January 1997


Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Special




From 1959 to 1973, individuals with measured mental abilities falling between one and two standard deviations below the mean (70-85 IQ) were considered to have borderline mental retardation. When the American Association on Mental Deficiency returned to the traditional two standard deviations below the mean as the upper limit of the mildly mentally retarded range (Grossman, 1973), this group of "borderline" individuals, who are referred to as "slow learners," was, in effect, "decertified." Although several investigators have acknowledged the continuing educational difficulties of these individuals, the slow learner has been neglected in the literature of the past two decades. This study examined educational practices in a middle-class suburban community in central Connecticut with respect to slow learners. It presented descriptive data regarding the attempt of one school district to meet their needs. It investigated distribution, characteristics and diagnostic criteria, success of educational outcomes, perceived effectiveness of and satisfaction with current practices, and perceived obstacles to optimal program implementation. Qualitative methodology, including in-depth interviews and document review, was employed. A sample of slow learning children was included as the subjects of this study, utilizing a descriptive case study approach. School psychologists and educational diagnosticians, as primary "gatekeepers" to special education programs, and administrators of special education programs, were interviewed. Interviews were also conducted with school administrators, pupil personnel staff, regular classroom teachers, and special educators. Surveys were completed by regular classroom teachers and special educators. The study corroborated the belief in the literature that the special education referral-diagnostic process is a highly subjective endeavor lacking in reliability. Although the study confirmed the practice of qualifying slow learners for special education, it suggested that the needs of slow learners are currently not being met in public schools. Calling for further research regarding how best to meet the needs of slow learners, the study concluded that the current special education categorical system is in need of reform. ^